By Ramona du Houx

On June 30,2020 Maine State Representatives Craig Hickman and Rachel Talbot Ross invited fellow legislators to join them and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations in an effort to identify existing bills before the 129th Legislature that would make an impact combating racial disparities. The group will make recommendations to the Legislature should it reconvene. The entire legislative body received a letter inviting them to participate in this process. Work will begin the week of July 6.

“Racism is a public health emergency,” said Hickman, D-Winthrop. “People of all ages, races and backgrounds are demonstrating in the streets and parks and capitals across this nation and around the world in unity for racial justice in the Movement for Black Lives. If Mississippi lawmakers can vote to remove the racist emblem of the Confederacy from its state flag, surely Maine lawmakers can begin a process to uproot the rhizomes of racism, and the rhizomes of racism are everywhere. We humbly and respectfully ask our colleagues to join us in this tough but necessary work. The people of this great state deserve nothing less.”

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Rep. Talbot Ross at the opening of the Freedom Trail in Portland, Maine in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“Maine can no longer ignore the twin pandemics of systemic racism and COVID-19. While the virus is new, it is just the latest demonstration of the racial inequities that have shaped every aspect of our lives dating back before the founding of this country,” said Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who also serves as Chair of the Permanent Commission. “We must act with urgency. Not one more generation should have to fight this inhumane, unjust institution. Legislation alone is not the answer, but it is our duty to confront the ways in which our laws continue to uphold a system producing disproportionate outcomes for Black, Indigenous and people of color and do absolutely everything to reverse this course.”

In addition, Rep. Hickman, Rep. Talbot Ross, Senate President Troy Jackson and Speaker Sara Gideon intend to pursue passage of an emergency resolve creating a Task Force for legislators, stakeholders and members of the public to devise longer-term strategic legislative recommendations to combat racial disparities and negative outcomes. The Task Force would identify legislative policy across subject areas, including criminal justice, education, health care, environmental regulation, labor and housing. The Task Force would work in partnership with the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigeonous and Maine Tribal Populations and the Maine Human Rights Commission.

“There is no question that we have to take action confronting the systemic racism prevalent both across the country and here in Maine,” said Speaker Sara Gideon. “Inequality in accessing health care or high-quality education, along with increased rates of incarceration or state-sanctioned murder are just a few of the issues disproportionately affecting people of color.”

“Systemic racism in this state and in this country is the product of more than a century of legalized discrimination and discriminatory policies. It’s not something we can fix overnight,” said President Jackson. “If we’re serious about righting centuries worth of wrongs and creating a better state for our neighbors, we need a thoughtful long-term strategy led by people of color.”

The Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations was established by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in 2019. The independent entity has a mission to examine racial disparities across all systems and to specifically work at improving the status and outcomes for historically disadvantaged racial, indigenous and tribal populations in the State. The Commission is empowered by statute to advise and consult with all three branches of state government.

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